ST. LOUIS — For Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, it was worth the wait to get Alistair Overeem back inside his cage.
It's been two-and-a-half years, seven MMA fights and some 30 pounds since Overeem last fought for Strikeforce, when he beat Paul Buentello to become the organization's heavyweight champion.
Overeem made his first defense of his title Saturday at "Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery" at Scottrade Center, obliterating Brett Rogers in less than one round, answering his many critics who questioned why he avoided fighting in the United States for so long.
"For me, it was just a matter of time," Overeem said. "It was just a matter of time before I would fight here and I would just do the drug testing like anybody else and I'd pass that and all the critics would be silenced. It's just a matter of time and for me, I just focus on myself and I always think about the aspects of my MMA game and my personal life, so those keep me busy enough to keep me from dealing with critics all the time."
The talk surrounding Overeem's body and alleged steroid use completely overshadowed any talk about his fight with Rogers, which is completely ludicrous. This is fighting. If Overeem passes the tests, and he's passed each one he's taken in his career, why should it matter what he looks like?
Speculation or no speculation, Overeem's career turnaround is one of the more impressive ones in the short history of MMA — and he's done it at a higher weight than he was competing at prior.
Saturday, Coker said Overeem's return to Strikeforce was like "the prodigal son returning." It's no doubt he should feel that way. Overeem's win over Buentello marked Overeem's return to relevance in MMA. He had lost 5-of-7 fights leading to that point. Including that fight, he has now won 8-of-9, the only blemish being a no contest against Mirko CroCop back at DREAM.6 in 2008, a fight Overeem was dominating.
"Three consecutive losses, that makes you think," said Overeem of the streak that saw him fall to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona and Mauricio Rua consecutively.
"I'm a fighter by nature. I always want to win. … There was some personal stuff, some stuff in training that wasn't right, so basically, I looked at everything in detail and I just redesigned everything."
Now, Overeem seems committed to fighting in the United States and for Strikeforce.
"You're definitely not going to have to wait that long anymore," Overeem said. "I decided in 2009 that I was going to put America and Strikeforce as a priority. I'm hoping to fight this year again in Strikeforce, maybe twice."
Still, with surely bigger paydays looming in Japan, it will be interesting to see if Coker can pull Overeem back stateside when push comes to shove.
Now with Rogers out of the way, the focus turns to the likely and long-anticipated bout between Overeem and the consensus world No. 1 heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko. Emelianenko is scheduled to fight Fabricio Werdum on June 26, but should he get past Werdum, and he should, there is no reason for these two to finally meet.
Overeem said he'd it doesn't matter to him whether he's defending his title or not. He just wants to fight Emelianenko.
Unfortunately, Coker noted that they'd have to sit down with M-1 Global, as well, when going to make the fight, and we know what kind of road blocks can be thrown in there.
As it stands now, that is the biggest fight Strikeforce has to offer, and from a business standpoint, one it has to offer. There's too much to be left on the table by not having these two fight each other. It's a fight both men want, especially Overeem, and it's time to step to the plate and get the deal done.
Regardless of whether the fight happens or not, Overeem's confidence still is boiling over — as it should be.
"I think I can beat anybody," he said.